Have you ever read the book of Job and felt like you’ve ended with more questions than answers? Why did Job suffer if he had been faithful to the Lord? What was so bad about the responses of Job’s friends? How does the suffering of Job apply to my life?
Before we proceed, here’s a quick summary of the book of Job for those who may not be familiar: Job was a wealthy man who was a faithful servant of the Lord. Satan and God had a chat, and God told Satan to consider Job, who then had everything stripped from him. His flocks, riches, even his family were all decimated. Eventually, even Job himself was plagued physically with horrible pain and sores and all kinds of nasties. God allowed Satan to do all of this to his servant. Three of Job’s friends came to comfort/console/chastise him, and each one spoke to Job about what he must have done wrong to deserve this punishment. A young man, Elihu, comes along and reminds these men that God is supreme, righteous, and holy. Then, God Himself speaks to Job and puts him in his place. Job is repentant and humbled before the Lord. All of his riches are restored many times over, and he is even blessed with a new family. Happily ever after, right?
To be honest, the majority of what I’ve been told about the story of Job is that his suffering should be an example to the rest of us.
“When I think I’ve got it bad, I just remember Job!”
“If God took care of Job, He’ll take care of me!”
“Job’s suffering was bigger than him. He’s an example of perseverance to the rest of us.”
Ever heard any of these phrases? Now, I’m not saying that these ideas are wrong. What I am saying is that leaving our understanding of Job’s life at such a superficial level is not at all healthy. Let’s break this down.
Who caused Job’s suffering?
Satan is the easy answer, isn’t it? Why would God literally obliterate everything that Job had – especially seeing how faithful Job had been? Well, the truth in this instance, as well as all others, is that Satan cannot do anything that God does not allow Him to do. The truth is that God had a plan for Job, and this suffering was a part of that plan. The more I read of the Bible, the more certain I become of God’s supremacy.
What’s up with Job’s friends?
“Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
– Job 4:8
Eliphaz based his argument on experience. Since Job was suffering, he obviously must have sinned. The common theme amongst all of Job’s friends – and the preconception that ultimately leads them astray – is that God pours nothing but blessings on His followers and only brings hard times onto the wicked.
“For inquire, please, of the former age, and consider the things by their fathers…”
– Job 8:8
Bildad came from the side of tradition. He also believed that, if Job had in fact been blameless, he would not be experiencing his current turmoil. Bildad holds firmly to his orthodox doctrine and will not be swayed.
“… Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves.”
– Job 11:6
Job’s third friend adamantly condemns Jon for verbosity, presumption, and sinfulness. He even goes so far as to say that Job deserves worse than what he has received. All of these men make a very dangerous mistake: They assume that a man’s favor or disfavor with God can be directly gauged based upon his material wealth or adversity.
What was the correct response?
Throughout this entire ordeal, Job does nothing but argue his innocence. He insists that he has done nothing to deserve what has happened to him. He does not denounce God, but he never lets go of his own pride.
When Elihu, a young man who waited to speak because he did not want to interrupt his elders, finally steps forward to say his part, he shuts the mouths of all four of the other men.
“Look to the heavens and see; and behold the clouds – They are higher than you. If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him? Or if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand?”
– Job 35:5-7
Elihu spends five whole chapters declaring God’s goodness and encouraging the others to do the same. When the voice of the Lord then comes thundering out of a whirlwind (for real, that’s what happened), Job is humbled and God declares this to be the proper response. Humility.
Why did Job suffer?
God never tells Job why He allowed all of the suffering, pain, and loss. He never tells any of us. An overwhelmingly recurring message from God throughout His word is present here as well:
I’m God. Period. If you will humble yourself before me and recognize that I am the I AM, you can be in sync with Me and the eternal plan I have for you.
Will God’s plan for you involve suffering? Yes. I’m not even going to throw a “probably” or a “maybe” in there. YES. We are sinful humans and God is a refining fire. The burning away of impurities is going to go against our very nature. It will not be comfortable. It will, however, be a part of an existence so immeasurably superior to sinful worldliness that no amount of worldly comfort or happiness can even begin to compare.